Substance Misuse in Healthcare? Is It Happening?

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Substance Misuse in Healthcare? Is It Happening?

Doctors are increasingly becoming more susceptible to addictions in today’s fast-paced and demanding healthcare setting. High stress levels, easy access to medicines, and the shame attached to seeking help all contribute towards this vulnerability. Consequently, it is important that these risk factors are known and handled in order for the welfare of doctors as well as quality care given to patients.

Substance Use and Abuse in the Medical Profession       

Substance use and abuse greatly impair an individual’s ability to make logical choices with a higher brain activity. This can be particularly dangerous for physicians who are constantly exposed to high-stress situations. According to the National Drug Dependence Treatment Centre (NDDTC), All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi, 5.2% of Indians, i.e., more than 5.7 crore people have been affected by harmful or dependent alcohol use. The figure shows that substance dependence is also common among doctors.

According to studies, at least 10 to 12 per cent of healthcare professionals will develop a substance use disorder at some point in their professional life, including one in every ten physicians and one in every five nurses. These figures are higher than the general population, but they are likely far higher because medical personnel are infamous for underreporting substance misuse issues.

Doctors face particular risks that make them more vulnerable to addiction. These include:       

High-Stress Environment: The medical profession is inherently stressful. Doctors deal with life and death situations; consequently, they work long and odd shifts, and the expectation to always be on call for patients has led to the exclusion of leisure activities. Such a constant work schedule can cause chronic stress and physician burnout putting them at a higher risk of substance dependency.

Easy Access to Medications: A two-edged sword is having doctors with easy access to medicinal prescriptions. This may cause them to self-medicate themselves due to stress, pain or insomnia, which ultimately leads to addiction.
Stigma and Isolation: Most physicians are unable to seek assistance due to the stigma involved in drug abuse within this fraternity. As a result of professional consequences and damage caused to their image, they often isolate themselves from others depending on drugs more and more.

Perhaps the most important factor that contributes to high rates of addictive behavior among doctors is stigma. All doctors are afraid of being judged or facing the consequences of seeking help from someone. This stigma is rigid, particularly in the medical profession, where doctors are supposed to be immune to disease and perfect.

The fight against stigma is paramount in ensuring that medical practitioners who develop such habits get the assistance they require. It is important to know that providing compassion and providing an open atmosphere in a medical center can greatly impact the approach to the problem of addiction.


‘Doctor Stress’ Management Tips       

Mindfulness and Meditation: Meditation and mindfulness can play a crucial role, not only when dealing with stress but also helps one be mindful of the activities they indulge in, relieving mental pressure from the heads of practicing physicians and helping prevent substance dependency. It can be incorporated by simple activities like breathing exercises and following simple muscle relaxation techniques.

Physical Activity: There is no doubt that stress has negative effects on mental health but exercise is an effective way of fighting stress. As it helps kick in the production of endorphins, the feel good hormone. Exercising does not mean you have to indulge in heavy lifting and going to the gym specifically. A simple activity like running for 15-20 minutes or doing some pushups can be quite helpful. Hence, Forcing doctors to come up with an exercise regime to follow can be quite helpful.

Counseling and Support Groups: Having a support network is quite crucial as cultivating a space where doctors can freely express themselves can have quite a positive effect as it will lead to catharsis. For this, counseling services shall be set up and seminars on mental health should be conducted. 

Healthy Work-Life Balance: There is a need to balance between working and personal life requirements. This includes guaranteeing that doctors have the necessary time off to rejuvenate and unwind.

For more tips on healthy work-life balance.

Doctors and Addiction Awareness       

When it comes to addressing this issue, it is crucial to raise awareness about the risks of addiction and strategies for prevention. Educational programs and workshops play a role in helping doctors recognize addiction signs and understand the significance of seeking assistance promptly. Institutions should also establish policies for doctors’ mental health and well-being and offer resources for addiction treatment and recovery.

The Indian Scenario: A Case Study On Addiction       

A paper titled "Magnitude of Substance Use in India," produced by AIIMS's NDDTC with financing from the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, throws light on the prevalence of substance misuse in India. 5.2% of Indians are thought to be impacted by alcohol dependence, prompting worries about the influence on healthcare professionals.
In India, doctors face problems that increase their susceptibility to addiction. Patient loads, insufficient mental health care, and cultural stigma around addiction all pose challenges for doctors seeking help. Targeted interventions are necessary to help doctors manage stress and avoid addiction.

Taking action and addressing the issue includes:       

  • Policy Adjustments: Enforcing policies to reduce the stigma of addiction and support healthcare professionals encountering problems.
  • Training and Education: Provide education and guidance to healthcare workers on addiction prevention and stress management.
  • Support Networks: Establishing support networks in facilities to help doctors manage stress and address addiction difficulties.
  • Research: Conducting study to determine what causes addiction among doctors and developing evidence-based interventions.

When we hear the word ‘Doctor’, it instantly creates an image of a human wearing a white coat and a stethoscope around the neck. The epitome of wisdom and a perfect human, putting them on a pedestal almost next to God. The problem with this is that we often tend to forget that they are humans, and just like any of us, they may face problems and have their own life stressors to deal with. Because of their high-stress work environment and easy access to pharmaceuticals, physicians are an appealing patient demographic for addiction because of the difficulties of their profession. They are more likely than other professionals to become trapped in the vicious cycle of substance abuse. Solving these difficulties will necessitate changes in policy, learning and support systems, as well as scientific research. We may also decrease avoidable death and suffering for people who have been damaged by misdiagnosis, etc., by keeping our doctors in good health - as they deserve.

Solh can be an effective tool for helping someone overcome addiction and other mental health problems. Here's how Solh's features can serve as preventive support:

Normalises Seeking Help: Solh combats the stigma connected with mental health by establishing a judgment-free zone. This can encourage someone battling with addiction to seek expert help.

Anonymous Support Groups: Connecting with those who understand addiction can be quite useful. Sharing experiences and realizing they are not alone can provide a great source of comfort and encouragement.  

Talk Now: When dealing with overwhelming emotions, have access to a counselor who can help you through any hiccups you face.

Clinical Support:The app's simple access to confidential consultations can be an excellent initial step for someone struggling with addiction who is hesitant to pursue traditional in-person therapy.

Download the Solh App now!